Country Temples

We took a trip to Nara on Monday and Tuesday, starting with Sakurai-shi (桜井市)and Asukamura(明日香村). The city of Nara has many temples but I was anxious to see the ones in the countryside. Unfortunately, the Suiheisha Museum was closed when we were in Sakurai but i was able to see Saiko-ji and the tomb of Saiko Mankichi, one of the young men who founded the Suiheisha society in 1923 to fight against discrimination towards the burakumin people.

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We met a very kind man who graciously showed us around the neighborhood and pointed out important sites to us. He is from Kamata-cho (Sawaii-cho). We really appreciated that he did so in spite of the rain.

We were unable to visit Tanzan Jinjya (shrine) due to a landslide blocking access, so we went to the Asuka Temple instead. This giant Buddha is supposedly the oldest is Japan. His face is much more severe than the calm-looking Buddhas I am used to seeing. I also saw the place where they buried the head of Soga Iruka after he was killed in a power struggle in 645. He was assassinated at court in a coup d’état involving Nakatomi no Kamatari and Prince Naka-no-Ōe. (Wikipedia) after which the main branch of hte powerful Soga clan became extinct.

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Burial site of Soga Iruka’s head

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Asuka Daibutsu 


From there we went to Abe Monju Temple to see the most unusual statue where Buddha is seated on a shishi, a mythical lion-like creature . I really enjoyed seeing this and they serve you Japanese sweets with powdered matcha tea when you arrive. The fee is a reasonable ¥700 for admission and tea ceremony.

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Monju Buddha seated on a lion at Abe Monju Temple

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Pond and Pavilion at Abe Monju

It was starting to clear up and we headed for a smaller temple the Shorinji. (聖林寺)We met these nice ladies from Fukuoka. We aren’t allowed to take photos of the 11-Faced Buddha, but I was impressed as it seemed much taller (it is just over 2 meters high) as we gazed up at it from below. This is a carved wooden sculpture covered in gilt from the Nara period, the 8th century.

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Yukari and Naoko from Fukuoka at Shorinji Temple

I wanted to find an old Showa era bakery in front of Sakurai station and we did but couldn’t  park nearby. Hiroo waited while I went in and bought rolls and sandwiches for our lunch. Their “meibutsu” or featured item is a fried an-sandwich. An is sweet bean paste. I wouldn’t recommend this fried one though. The other bread was good.

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Retro bakery in Sakurai, Marutsu Bakery

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Fried Bean Paste Bread

Then on to our final stop of the day at Hasedera, completed around 727. Here we saw the Eleven-Faced Kannon in hte Main Hall. I had to climb the 399 steps to reach it and it I had muscle pain later! Realized how out of shape I am!!


Eleven-faced Kannon at Hase Temple

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View from the Main Hall (leaves have just started to turn)

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399 Steps

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Here  we also met Sachie from Nagoya who came here on a 3 day sketching tour. She showed us her water-color pictures.

All the temples mentioned above are in hte same vicinity and very accessible if you travel by car. I am sure there are bus tours which take you to the same places. All of the statues we saw are National Cultural Treasures.

Nara and the Treasures of Shoso-in

Finally we came to the city of Nara and I wanted to see the Senjyu Kannon (thousand-handed Buddha) at Toshodaiji temple. It was founded in 759 by the  Chinese monk Jianzhen (or Ganjin in Japanese)during the Nara Period. (Wikipedia) In Japanese, this monk is called Ganjin. I heard that he made four attempts to reach Japan in order to spread Buddhism and succeeded only on the fifth voyage. After seeing his tomb, I felt sympathy for him dying so far from his homeland and family, a fate I will most likely share.

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The Golden Hall at Toshodaiji

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Thousand-handed Kannon at Toshodaiji


Chinese monk who came to Nara to teach Buddhism(Ganjin)

This statue of Ganjin is only shown ot the public once a year in early June for 3 days.. I took a picture of a picture. And we went to eat lunch at a nearby cafe, Nodo Cafe (のどかふぇ)

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Healthy lunch with organic vegetables and rice

In the afternoon, we arrived at the Shoso-in Exhibition at Nara National Museum. There were so many people! I lost track of Hiroo and wandered around looking for him for 20 minutes!

The treasures here belonged to the Emperor Kammu who reigned from 781 to 806). Some of these were offerings to the Great Buddha at Todaiji. After the emperor’s death, his widow created the treasure storehouse, shoso-in, to house these articles.

Many items are from the Silk Road, from Persia or India. Amazing that a cloth apron from 700 could survive this long! These banners are dyed with a wax-resin process and show a ram and a tree.

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This 12-lobed glass dish is also from the 8th century and is colored with deep green shades. The design of rabbits are styled on each side.

Best Place to Stay

Definitely stay at he Cafe Pension Asuka and enjoy the fine cuisine. We chose the Steak dinner with Hors d oeurves and we totally enjoyed our meal. The room was small but adequate with a unit bath. It is located in Asuka on a shady lane! The owners are a very friendly couple who gave us travel advice and went out of their way to make us feel at home.

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a very tender and juicy steak!!

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The Matsuokas at Cafe Pension Asuka

We had a wonderful time and I hope to visit Nara again..and I will stay at Cafe Pension Asuka again too!! (0744-54-3017) or book on Jalan!

Thanks to Hiroo for driving over 1000 kilometers! We had a memorable trip!!

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Kake no Ha Sushi in Tenri-shi


Yomogi Bread

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600g bread flour

9g dry yeast

9g salt

60g honey

18g skim milk pwd

42g butter

150g yomogi (cooked and chopped weight)

300-320g water

sweet natto (shonagon) as desired)

Knead 20 minutes. Let rise 40. Divide in 4!!! Let rest (bench time) 20 minutes. Roll in long rectangles. Spread on natto and roll into ropes. Roll and stretch ropes. Wind two together and fit into the greased loaf pan. Let rise 30 minutes. Bake in cold start oven 180 C(350F) for 35 minutes. Remove from pan immediately. Cool on a wire rack.

(Instead of yomogi , you can use matcha tea powder but you’ll nee to increase the water slightly.)

Sweet natto can be made, or you can substitute finely diced sweet potato cooked in sugar. Here is a recipe for amanatto.

Art and Artifacts(?)

The very last day of summer, we started out for Shikoku, one of the four largest islands that comprise Japan. I wanted to practice driving on hte Expressway so I drove to Imabari! Then Hiroo took the driver’s seat and we made it to our first destination about 10:00 AM.



This man has amassed quite a collection of items from the Showa period. (1926~1989) He has everything from movie posters to Kewpie dolls! He spent an hour with us , showing us through the two buildings of fascinating things. Nakanishi-san was a news photographer and still has a small old studio wedged between the two “museums”!

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Paper dolls from 1960s?

We had a great time looking at his collection. I recommend you contact him just to be sure he is there when you g. It is only 300 yen to see the museum.



From there we went to the nearby “Hibari Shokudo” which is apparently famous for the huge pork cutlet on rice (and cheap!) People were lining up well before opening time and hte couple in front of us said it was their second attempt to be served at the restaurant as last time they couldn’t get in! It was more than we could eat.very good!

Swinging Bridges are Scary

We went on to the famed “kazura-bashi” at Iya in Tokushima prefecture. It was only 30 minutes or so from the Otoyo Showa museum. You must pay to go across and there were many tourists from Japan and abroad. I somehow made it across but it was scary! Beautiful photos don’t do it justice.



Scary enough!

That night we stayed at a hot springs in Miyoshi. We enjoyed hte breakfast in particular as they served just out of the oven pizza and also amazing French toast made with French bread!

Tobacco Trade in Ikeda

The next town, Ikeda, was a center for drying and curing tobacco in the Edo period. It was then transported down the Yoshino RIver to the city of Tokushima and from there to other areas of Japan. We stumbled on the Tobacco Museum when it was opening at 9:00 AM. A friendly volunteer guide gave us a tour and lots of interesting information.


Hiroo tries smoking a kiseru tobacco pipe at the Tobacco Museum, Ikeda-cho

As we were leaving, we happened to meet an older woman who was sweeping the road in front of her shop. A retired high school home ec teacher, she is in her 80s but very active. We went inside her “shop” and visited with her. It seems she organizes all kinds of events, makes her own posters and produces it all. Recently she put on a “chindon-ya” parade where everyone enjoyed dressing in period costumes!


We took the local highway 192 to our next stop, Daibosatsutoge Cafe” where Shima Rikita san has been continually adding to his enormous brick structure began in 1964. His son and wife operate a cafe in part of the area, but we were especially lucky to get a two hour tour and talk with this artist in his studio.




Shima Rikita, artist and craftsman





When he couldn’t get bricks at a reasonable price, he built a brick-kiln and kept going! Now he works in many mediums, carving wood, ceramics and furniture building. Probably close to 85, he still executes new ideas as soon as he gets them, now finishing up his chairs carved to represent the 47 prefectures. I definitely want to go back for his exhibition!

Best-ever inn By the Sea, Kaiyo-cho

We were so fortunate to stay at Osa inn and for a very reasonable price. Our hosts, the Hayashi’s came back to her home and re-opened this inn after retiring. She is an amazing cook! Everyone gave the food top rating and that is why I chose it..and I wasn’t disappointed. This is the best place i have ever stayed in Japan!!





They talked about ayu fishing!

And after breakfast, she served her special Creme Brulee and fruit and her husband ground fresh coffee for us! We really enjoyed the warm atmosphere and the food!

On to Kochi..

On the last leg of our journey, we headed for Kochi city where I saw the “Jiyu Minken Undo” museum. But what we enjoyed most was Makino Tomitaro Botanical Gardens!


Makino Tomitaro in his study (recreation)




Tomitaro as a young man

He was a botanist and did research on plants, the first person to produce a definitive  encyclopedia of Japanese plants. His original sketches are on display and, fortunately for me, the museum of his life and achievements had English explanations which were well done!!

Home Again

Stopping by the Kochi Castle and the nearby Museum of Literary Arts, we finally started for home. We saw so many things and met creative people who all follow their dreams. I am inspired to find a new project now! We had a wonderful time! I love Tokushima and the people there are really friendly!


Friendly Rika san at Iya Onsen

Old Friends

This week old friends visited the farm! Mayumi was my English student in junior high and high school. I hadn’t seen her in 12 years! It was great to meet her husband and kids. They live in Sweden, about an hour from Stockholm.

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Mayumi and daughter Maya,10

I was worried for Hiroo’s sake that they couldn’t speak Japanese, but fortunately even the kids spoke good Japanese as wella s English. Swedish is their main language and it sounded strange to my ears!

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Unfortunately, it rained the whole time and never let up. But we had a BBQ anyway, under the tent and on the porch!

They were staying at the nearby Green Pier resort but without meals so when we heard that, Hiroo decided to make sushi for dinner! He went to Kurose to get fresh sashimi and make a great meal. It seems the kids mostly eat salmon sushi as that is plentiful in Sweden.

We had a great time and I appreciate guests who wash all the dishes! Maya and her Mom made rice balls ( o-musubi). Maya was good at that!

Thirteen-year-old Leo is a soccer player and studies Spanish at school. ( His 4th language!!)

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Too bad we couldn’t play in the ocean or on the beach but the whole family really got into doing “take-zaiku” or bamboo craft, making chopsticks and bowls from green bamboo.

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Good sushi, Hiroo!

We enjoyed eating and talking together and I was glad to see her Mom Kay, after so many years! It is good to see old friends!

Mayumi’s husband, Bosse, was really nice and laid back! I’m glad to have the chance to meet everyone! And honored that they took the time t come all the way to Yasuura to see us!


Happy New Year

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Last year, God was so good to me. My grandson EIji was born big and healthy! I successfully underwent surgery for a problem I had struggled with for 3 years! I am thankful that I am well now! It was a very good year.

Kuri KInton (Chestnuts in Sweet Potato)

Kuri Kinton (Chestnuts in Sweet Potato) made from our own chestnuts!

Sweet Black Beans

Sweet Black Beans Each person eats his age in beans! I have to eat 65!!??

Nishime Vegetables simmered in soy sauce

Nishime Vegetables simmered in soy sauce

We celebrated New Years with the traditional foods, arranging them in the tiered lacquer box on New Years Eve so we don’t have to cook for a couple days, supposedly!

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I was very happy that Natchan visited on New Years eve to share toshikoshi soba…noodles eaten on December 31st for good luck in the new year. We enjoyed talking and eating the sushi HIroo made! They are teetotalers but I enjoyed a little Sauvignon Blanc.

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Eating lucky noodles with Natchan on New Years’ Eve

Hiroo made nigiri sushi

Hiroo made nigiri sushi

Each dish in the above assortment has significance. Rolled kobu seaweed stands for joy (yorokobu). Black beans (kuro mame)cooked with sugar and a bit of soy sauce mean that we will stay “mame” (active ) even as we grow older. My online dictionary tells me that mame means someone who attempts many things without minding the troublesome tasks involved.

Who won??

Who won??

We spent the holiday playing Scrabble, reading or, in Hiroo’s case, writing calligraphy with ink and brush. Usually people in Japan write their motto for the new year on large posters  called kakizome. Later these are burnt up at a special Tondo festival. It’s said if the ashes swirl up high in the sky, you will become skillful at calligraphy.

Hiroo practices his calligraphy

Hiroo practices his calligraphy

What words would you write as your wish for the New Year?

On New Years day we get up and have Ozoni,a hot soup with a sticky rice cake called mochi. Hiroo usually makes this. We greet each other formally by saying “Akemashite omedeto.” (Happy new year) and “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. (Please think kindly of me and support me this year too!)

Hiroo enjoys ozoni on January first!

Hiroo enjoys ozoni on January first!

We woke up to lots of snow on January first. It’s a good thing we are stocked upon groceries as we won’t be able to drive for several days.  Even though the snow isn’t so deep,the roads freeze over and are so slippery! We’ll stay home and enjoy each other’s company and some good books!

Snowed in

Snowed in

I’m sure  you have many wishes and goals for the New Year! I hope they come to fruition and that 2015 will be a very good year for you!

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Organizing your Closet

I am not gifted with my hands nor good at crafts, but I recently met someone who has done some amazing things in her house, particularly with organizing shelves and drawers. I never have enough space to keep things. We are now in the middle of remodeling and I was forced to clean out junk before the workmen came! Here are some things I am just now realizing.

My ideal as seen in a magazine!

My ideal as seen in a magazine!

Throw away what you don’t use. Periodically clean closets and drawers eliminate the excess. Be drastic in disposing of whatever you really don’t need or use. Don’t be sentimental! I f you must keep some mementoes, make a scrapbook or a “memory” box for those items.

Create your own boxes. My friend used leftover wallpaper to cover cartons. She reinforced the area inside where she wanted to attach a knob or handle. She recommended I use two-sided tape and felt to cover the bottom of the box so it slides easier on the shelf.


Cover cartons with wallpaper or contact paper. Use double-sided tape and felt to cover the bottom

Cover cartons with wallpaper or contact paper. Use double-sided tape and felt to cover the bottom


Harumi used a candle to heat the plastic and make the marbled effect on the knobs.

Harumi used a candle to heat the plastic and make the marbled effect on the knobs.

Be inventive. Find ways to store more things in smaller spaces. I would have just had a stack of magazines on the coffee table shelf, but Harumi made storage boxes to goon the bottom shelf and added a skirt to hide them. The skirt is held in place by adjustable curtain rods !

Another tip I learned from Harumi is to cover damaged areas on my cupboard doors with contact paper. I am eager to try this next. The door isn’t on our new closet yet, but here is what it is shaping up to be.

Closet in the making...

Closet in the making…

If you have any other ideas on how to store my stuff. please let me know or send me a link!!

A special thanks to Harumi for giving me these extra boxes and advice on how to finish them! I’ll never be as neat and efficient as she is, but I hope I am making progress. It’s good to either move or remodel occasionally to motivate us to throw things away!

Lunch break!

Lunch break!


This is what my house looks like now!

Living in chaos for over 10 days!

Living in chaos for over 10 days!

New wallpaper!

New wallpaper!

We have lived like this for 12 days so far! I hope the end is in sight! I’ll show you the finished rooms next time!

Sand and Wheat

Yellow Sand  As China geared up their economy to mass produce goods cheaply, they also have created a great deal of damage to the environment. One problem that we suffer from a great deal is the”yellow sand” that drifts over to Japan, clouding our skies and making  visibility very bad. Originating in Mongolia and northern China, intense winds and dust storms kick up this very fine sand which is carried over the sea.

On a clear day..

On a clear day..

Today this is the view from our porch..

What happened to the island..?

What happened to the island..?

As most pollution problems, many factors are contributing to create the dust storms.

it has become a serious problem due to the increase of industrial pollutants contained in the dust and intensified desertification in China causing longer and more frequent occurrences, as well as in the last few decades when the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan started drying up due to the diversion of the Amu River and Syr River following a Soviet agricultural program to irrigate Central Asian deserts, mainly for cotton plantations. (Wikipedia on Yellow sand)

Even though I just washed my car yesterday, I go out to find a thin film of dust covering the car or see  it freckled with dusty rain drops. Many people are concerned about the pollutants the dust contains which could cause serious health issues. In Japan, we refer to it as pm 2.5. If this tiny particles settle deep in our lungs it can cause  lung disease, emphysema, lung cancer. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing makes accurate reports daily on the amount of these tiny particles in the air and the level of danger it poses.

Meanwhile, back at the farm…

Cutting the wheat

Cutting the wheat

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In spite of all this, Hiroo harvested his wheat today…organically-grown! It will be threshed and milled and go into my sourdough bread.

Misako brought me roses from her garden! They include SUmmer Snow and Rosa Munde varieties

Misako brought me roses from her garden! They include Summer Snow and Rosa Munde varieties

Summer Snow roses. Deep pink are Rosa munde!

Summer Snow roses. Deep pink are Rosa munde!

Enjoying the fresh air!

Enjoying the fresh air!

We were thrilled that Misako came by for a visit and we had lunch together. She is into all kinds of things, like growing herbs and cotton and dying fabric with vegetable dye. So she went up the mountain to pick some “biwa” leaves for her dye.

Biwa (loquat) leaves for vegetable dye

Biwa (loquat) leaves for vegetable dye

Biwa (loquat) leaves

Biwa (loquat) leaves

"ai" plant, Japanese indigo for dying

“ai” plant, Japanese indigo for dying

Kusakizome (dying cloth or yarn with natural vegetable dyes) is popular in Japan. She has planted Indigo in her garden to use in the dying process too. I look forward to seeing some of the things she makes. I love the deep blues produced from this ai plant!

Ai-zome cloth

Ai-zome cloth

Later we sat on the porch and talked and enjoyed the quiet. There is something about watching the gentle movement of the sea that calms one’s soul.

I ate the first zucchini of the season for breakfast, sauteed with my egg. This year we also have a lot of cilantro which we plan to use in Mexican dishes..but I am not quite used to this taste yet!

Bumper crop of cilantro!

Bumper crop of cilantro!

Spring is a very busy season here on the farm and we could certainly use some help! There are lots of Japanese green plums to be picked up high using a ladder, but this all is getting to be a lot of work for people our age!

The green plums are used to make a simple sweet plum wine. When they become slightly ripe, we use these plums for umeboshi pickles or for Plum Jam (my favorite!!)

Plum Jam is so yummy!

Plum Jam is so yummy!


If you are free, drop by next weekend and pick yourself some plums with us!

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